Memo From Frank
An analyst from Wall Street called me the other day wanting information on the impact of digital signs on the stock of the public billboard companies. I get this call frequently. What they don’t know is that there is much more potential in a simple wooden billboard right now than an LED display. LED is enormously costly and, in most markets, not that profitable when you subtract all the costs, the depreciation on the LED and the opportunity cost of a static display. I can get a higher return on investment from a bunch of wooden signs than a steel LED unit. The industry is filled with misconceptions on where the highest rates of return are. Analysts only hear what they want to hear, as well as what they understand. You should get the facts and make the correct decisions. While they are only gambling with other people’s money, you are spending your own and should demand the highest and safest return on investment.
The Power Of Practice In Finding Billboard Locations
Have you ever watched the Olympics and thought “how in the world can they do that” when the tumbler does a flip and lands solidly on a 6” wide beam? The truth is that even the most complicated tasks become easy with practice. And that’s as true for finding billboard locations as it is for gymnastics.
Before you begin looking for billboard locations, you should first learn the laws of the state you are looking in. While the state handbook may look scary at first, you only need to learn a few items to find locations: the spacing between signs, the non-commercial zoning definition outside of a city limits, and the height and size, as well as the distance from any entrance ramp, exit ramp, or other highway landmark. You can probably distill this from the state handbook in 30 minutes, and it never changes from year to year.
Reading local ordinances
The same holds true for local ordinances. Once you have the basic information on sign placement, it’s not hard to quickly become a master of it. This is not like a complicated video game – it’s more like the first video game called “Pong”. You will be amazed at how proficient you will be about analyzing sign locations pretty quickly.
Understanding the normal zonings
In most markets, billboards are only allowed on non-residential zonings. That leaves retail, commercial and industrial zonings in most cases. You can rapidly be able to spot these zonings on the map, and waste no time in determining if a location is legal or not. You can also simply highlight the zoning map to make this determination even faster.
Learning how to “visualize” spacing
Let’s assume that the required spacing between billboards is 500’. You will be amazed at how fast you can visually memorize what a spacing looks like. You will also figure our basic measuring devices in everyday life. The best of these is your car odometer, which is 528’ per tenth of a mile. Using this same example, you would be able to know that one click of your odometer is roughly the 500’ spacing you need.
Developing your sales pitch
Another scary task, that becomes easy with practice, is what you say to a landowner concerning renting his property. You will develop your own pitch over time, but it’s basically, “hi, this is __________ with ____________ sign company, and we’re interested in building a billboard on your property in exchange for paying you ground rent. I’d like to come by and meet with you on this subject. Would you be free some time this week?” All humans gravitate to what works for them, so after you’ve given your sales pitch enough times, you’ll learn what works for you, and you can simply use that pitch over and over until it becomes second nature.
Even the most difficult tasks become easy when you practice them. Finding billboard locations is not nearly as hard as it looks.
Why Good Billboard Artwork Is So Important – And How To Get It
The ad message basically determines whether a billboard will be a success or failure for the advertiser. Great ads begin with great artwork. And there are some basic rules that make for great billboards.
The design concept
While this is hard to distill down to a single paragraph, a winning billboard should have the ability to be enormously compelling to the audience. It should encapsulate the strongest sales message to the consumer. The classic Coke ads show someone having a refreshing cold Coke, and good times going with it. On a hot day, it made you want to immediately stop and get one. There are a million ad messages out there, and a great one literally screams to the viewer “you have GOT to do this”. Weak messages end up with no customers and no renewal.
Use of vinyl printing potential
In the old days, all billboards were hand-painted. This limited what could be depicted, as well as what could be afforded. Today, with vinyl billboard printing, you can make the entire sign a full photo, so there are not limitations. However, most advertisers are not utilizing even 10% of this potential. You should put photos and colors on every inch of the sign – why not? Think without boundaries.
The farther away you can read the sign, the better. You should have no word smaller than 3’ tall if you can help kit. There is no greater sin than the customer saying “gee, I can’t read a word on that sign”. That’s going to result in a complete failure for the client. When it comes to words, think big.
And big words means fewer words. Some people think you should never have more than five words on the sign total. While that’s probably a bit extreme, there’s no question that a few giant words is infinitely better than more, smaller words. Keep the number of words to an absolute minimum.
Exit Now when possible
If you can use the words “Exit Now” on the sign, then do it – and make it huge. Being point-of-purchase is one of the strong points of any billboard, so exploit it if you can. But if you can’t, you can’t.
In order for your ad message to be read, you must have contrast between the copy and the background colors. The greatest contrast is black on yellow, then black on white, then yellow on black, then white on black, and similar combinations. You’ll find now good choices that are, for example, dark green on light green, or orange on red, etc.
The most effective colors are those that are not found in nature, to make the sign stand out. Since green is prevalent in trees, and most signs have trees behind them, one of the most effective colors is red. That’s why so many so many companies have red logos, such as McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Texaco, etc. Since green, blue and white are common nature colors, never use those.
Where to get help
In today’s internet world, there’s no excuse to use bad artwork, You can get virtual assistance from graphic designers on such websites at Fiverr.com and then many of the vinyl printers, such as Formetco, offer design work at very reasonable prices. If you are not a professional when it comes to design, use a professional. Why scrimp on $50 or so in design work, when a successful ad will make an advertiser renew every year and save you thousands of dollars.
Great art doesn’t just happen – it’s the result of good strategy. Make every sign a winner and you’ll never have a problem renting your ad space.
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Why It’s Important To Be “Ahead” Of The Crowd – And How To Do It
This is a drawing of Paducah, Kentucky in the 1800s. Paducah never really went anywhere. However, at the same time, Los Angeles grew to be around 10 million people. It’s important to be able to spot where the markets are going to grow fast and build billboards ahead of that growth.
Future highway development plans
One good starting spot is the future highway map that is produced by the State Highway Department. This shows all of the discussion on new roads typically ten years into the future. If you analyze these books, you can easily see where the growth is. It’s amazing that more people do not take advantage of this resource.
Location of Wal-Mart and McDonalds
Wal-Mart and McDonalds have excellent property selection departments that are seldom wrong. If you map out where these are, you will see a pattern of growth. If you had simply mapped out the Wal-Mart locations in Dallas, you would have seen the growth to the north ahead of the pack. These companies are like beacons that tell you where the action is – both current and future.
Monitoring new developments
Always remain on the lookout for the announcement of new developments. I once made a fortune by knowing ahead of the pack that they were building an outlet mall in Terrell, Texas. I built a bunch of billboards around it and rented the space for high prices. Nobody could figure out why I was building signs there until they realized what was going on – and then it was too late for them as I had taken all the spots.
Discovering growth cities
When you see a city with above-average growth, focus on that. Some cities and towns have amazing genetics that allow for rapid growth. Since sign locations are limited, if you are the first one to dominate that market, your signs will become valuable over time just from the growth in the market.
Learning the growth “quadrant”
Another good exercise is to map out the Wal-Marts, McDonalds and future highways on a map, and divide your market into four quadrants. Typically, all the action will be in one or two quadrants. In Dallas, for example, all the growth is north and east, and never south and west. You should concentrate on only those strong quadrants, since that’s where the future rent increases will happen.
Staying ahead of everyone else is the hallmark of being a good billboard owner. If you proactively stay on top of your market, this is possible to do.
How To Successfully Work With City Councils To Get Billboard Variances
I have been able to get many valuable billboard variances from various cities and towns. The reason I have been successful is that I know how to work the system. Here are the key steps to getting the city council to grant you the variance to build a sign in an area that is currently illegal for billboards.
Do your campaigning behind the scenes
Contact each city council person. Tell them of your proposal and get their feedback. Never have these conversations in public – that puts the person on the spot. These should be just one-on-one talks on the phone. See if you can find what concerns them and solve those concerns. For example, if the city council person says “I don’t like tall signs” see if you could build it lower to get their vote.
Never go before the council until you know you have the votes
You know how many votes you need to get approval. So never go before the city council until you have a winning number of votes. If you don’t have them, don’t take the gamble. Delay going before them until you have garnered the votes to win. I once waited two years to go before the council because I had to wait until the hostile members were replaced. Losing is permanent, so don’t take the gamble until you know you can win.
Give the city rational reasons for you to win, even though they aren’t the real component
City council members typically vote based on their own motives, and don’t necessarily always think in terms of what’s best for the voters. But give them the arguments on why it’s O.K. to do so. For example, I got a variance in a town south of Dallas for the simple reason that the land owner was good friends with the “good old boy” council members. But they had to have something to say at the meeting. So I gave them a list of positives such as “attracts drivers to stop and shop in the historic downtown area”. This type of B.S. comes in real handy when angry citizens demand an explanation, even though it has nothing to do with the real reasons.
There is a right and wrong way to get a billboard variance. Think like a politician and use the system for all it’s worth.
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